decorated initial 'T' he highly rhetorical style of Corelli's novels, which often takes the form of long passages that function like sermons or position papers, becomes particularly intense when writing about love between men and women. Anyone who has read The Sorrows of Satan — a novel that repeatedly savages French and British romantic novels for corrupting women — might be surprised at the extent to which The Master Christian at times resembles a modern bodice ripper. In the following passage Aubrey Leigh and Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein catch sight of each other and immediately fall in love, as if struck by lightning.

As in a dream he heard her name, "The Comtesse Sylvie Hermenstein" and his own, "Mr. Aubrey Leigh"; he was dimly aware of bowing, and of saying something vague and formal, but all the actuality of his being was for the moment shaken and transfigured, and only one strong and overwhelming conviction remained, — the conviction that, in the slight creature who stood before him gracefully acknowledging his salutation, he had met his fate. Now he understood as he had never done before what the poet-philosopher meant by "the celestial rapture falling out of heaven"; — for that rapture fell upon him and caught him up in a cloud of glory, with all the suddenness and fervour which must ever attend the true birth of the divine passion in strong and tender natures. [322; emphasis added]

As the words and phrases that I have put in boldface make clear, Corelli advocates a highly spiritualized form of romantic love, simultaneously suppressing any explicit mention of the erotic while nonetheless following its traditional patterns. In the event that the reader might be tempted regard such love skepticallly, the narrator emphasizes that any such skepticism can only come from less moral beings, such as the "calculating sensualist," who

can never comprehend this swiftly exalted emotion, this immediate radiation of light through all life, which is like the sun breaking through clouds on a dark day. The sensualist has by self- indulgence, blunted the edge of feeling, and it is impossible for him to experience this delicate sensation of exquisite delight, — this marvellous assurance that here and now, face to face, stands the One for whom all time shall be merged into a Song of Love, and upon whom all the sweetest thoughts of imagination shall be brought to bear for the furtherance of mutual joy! [322]

Neither of Corelli's lovers are sensualists. Like Aubrey Leigh, the radical in politics and religion, Sylvie Hermenstein is one of those rare higher beings, though in her case one disguised as a "butterfly of fashion." In fact the narrator assures us that she not only "truly of a dreamy and poetic nature," but "she had read very deeply, and the griefs and joys of humanity presented an ever-varying problem to her refined and penetrative mind" (351). Under the influence of Leigh, she interested

herself in subjects which she had never studied so closely before, — and she was gradually arriving at the real secret of the highest duty of life, — that of serving and working for others without consideration for oneself. A great love was teaching her as only a great love can; — a love which she scarcely dared to admit to herself, but which nevertheless was beginning to lead her step by step, into that mysterious land, half light, half shadow, which is the nearest road to Heaven, — a land where we suffer gladly for another's sorrow, and are joyous in our own griefs, because another is happy! To love ONE greatly, means to love ALL more purely, — and to find heart-room and sympathy for the many sorrows and perplexities of those who are not as uplifted as ourselves. [351]

"The true mission of the divine passion in its divinest form," Corelli's narrator explains, "is that it should elevate and inspire the soul, bringing it to the noblest issues" (351). The highest earthly love, in other words, is essentially spiritual and, as the novel shows, leads to Christian social and political action.

References

Corelli, Marie. The Master-Christian. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1900. [Project Gutenberg has a free electronic text online; search on Google.]

Corelli, Marie. The Sorrows of Satan. n.p., n.d. [The novel was published first in 1895.]


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Last modified 25 August 2003